The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rescuers quit, relatives wait

Rafiganj, Sept. 12: Officially, the search for bodies ended this evening, three-and-a-half days after the Rajdhani Express toppled over like a toy train. Officially, the toll stood at 117.

But after the list of the living and the list of the dead had been matched, there were still the missing, still the unidentified and unclaimed and still the tired search — as hope was reaching exhaustion point, too — by some lonely people for relatives who were on the train.

Senior railway officials did not rule out the possibility that some more bodies may still be trapped inside the coaches, but engineers, armymen and other volunteers conducting the search left the site.

“I cannot believe that the authorities can be so indifferent to this kind of a situation,” said Dhiren Maity, a relative of a victim. Only 15 to 20 men, including some jawans of the Railway Protection Force, and half-a-dozen constables of the local police station manned the rescue operation in the evening.

Eastern Railway put out a toll of 106, but the divisional railway manager of Mughal Sarai, K.K. Saxena, counted 117 dead.

Saxena said the confusion over the toll could have arisen as relatives of some of the victims have taken away the bodies without enrolling their names.

At least 14 people were still missing, he added. One of them is Susanta Chakraborty, a former MP of the CPM, who was travelling in coach A-4. His family has confirmed he was on the train.

Yesterday, 10 passengers— emaciated but alive — were rescued from the coach, but Chakraborty was not there. “I have been contacted by a minister in West Bengal who said he would be coming to see the entire coach himself,” Saxena said.

Three to four bodies could have been washed away as some passengers of one of the coaches that was hanging from the bridge might have jumped out and fallen into the river. One has been found in the rain-fed Dhawa, where the search was continuing.

Only three of the last five bodies recovered today were identified: Amita Sen of Delhi Defence Colony, Mohammed Islam, an employee of the pantry car, and Sunil Kumar Basu, an executive engineer of a company in Hooghly.

Jayanta Chatterjee, a survivor who started his journey back home from Gaya, died on the way to Howrah.

A few bodies — without a name and a claim and decomposed almost beyond recognition — were lying in a morgue in Gaya. By tomorrow night if no one turns up to claim them, a mass funeral will wipe away all trace of their existence. And their families will not even know.

Saxena said the unidentified bodies could be the reason why the relatives were refusing to give up the search at the site, still hoping for a miracle.

Five doctors grappled with more than 20 bodies handed over for post-mortem reports as the victims’ relatives waited for the “mere formality” to be over.

Sulata Sen, daughter of 75-year-old Amita Sen, said: “We could have taken the first train back to Calcutta if there wasn’t this five-hour wait to know what everyone already knows,” she said, pointing to the body that had been smashed almost beyond recognition.

“I know everyone knows the cause of death,” Gaya Medical College superintendent Shrikant Prasad Singh admitted. “But we have to do our job.” As the crowd at the morgue grew, it thinned at the accident site.

After the army and other official and voluntary rescue teams packed up, the barricades that had separated the relatives of victims from the mass of local people were torn down.

The search would have been called off this morning itself but for the persistent pressing by the relatives of 10 missing passengers not to give up.

“One of the relatives asked me to start looking for the body of his family member. We did that and another body was found inside,” Saxena said.

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